Dealing with dead is helluva trouble for forensic experts

By Ajita Rijal

ajitaaKathmandu, July 21: Dealing with the bodies of persons who are killed under various unnatural circumstances calls for a deft knowledge of forensic medicine so that quick and fair justice delivery would be possible. Forensic medicine, a special branch of the medical science that needs knowledge from both the medical and technological fields, in the delivery of justice, has been identified as a medico-legal service.

Working with dead bodies, especially of those who are killed in assaults or after abuses, rape, poisoning and mutilation, is a regular job of Dr. Harihar Wasti, a forensic medicine expert of NAMS, Bir Hospital, and a visiting professor at the Institute of Medicines, Maharajgunj, TUTH. Wasti has 26 years of experience working in the forensic medicine field.
Talking to The Rising Nepal Dr. Wasti shared the challenges he has confronted in this field. According to him, there are many health hazards and risks involved in this field that need to be addressed. “It’s a very sensitive area and involves a lots of mental stress as well. People also blame us heaping us with unfounded allegations.”
The procedure of forensic science is tough, and the cases must be handled carefully by an expert to ensure the credibility of the entire process, he added.
Touching on the broader issues surrounding the forensic medicine sector, Dr. Wasti said, “I feel disheartened by the government’s indifference towards the sector.”
He emphasised the need for the government to structurally manage medico-legal field. The Ministry of Health should look after the medico-legal issues. The state should realise that forensic medico-legal services are required for the public, and accordingly show concern to regulate it properly.
Back up facilities for medico-legal services are essential for the complete analysis of any case, said Dr. Wasti, adding that only bare eyes cannot see all traces of evidences which are vital in many situations. “For example, our hospitals lack x-ray facilities, which is essential to detect fractures in bones and in many other cases.”
As the medico-legal cases are only handled by the government doctors, sometimes the police from various district call them for autopsy, said Dr. Wasti adding many district hospitals lack competent doctors to perform autopsy.
According to the Section 20 (3) of Criminal Procedure Code Act, 2017, medical report of any death occurred under strange, unnatural or unusual circumstances or death caused a result of an accident, suicide, or homicide has to be prepared by doctors of the government hospitals or experts designated by the government or license holder doctors.The medico-legal investigation system in our country still lags far behind due to indifference shown by the state, said Dr Wasti.
Most of the district hospitals lack mortuaries and those hospitals that had morgues did not maintain them well. Medical officers are compelled to conduct post-mortem on dirty floors or tables due to lack of mortuary, he added.
Meanwhile, Thakur Bastakoti, Assistant District Attorney at the Kathmandu District Court, said that the role of forensics is to carry out prompt and accurate fact findings, to identify individuals and families who should receive compensation. The best results of medico-legal analysis would help in prosecution of cases and reparation, he said.
While dealing with criminal cases, the forensic reports matter a lot such as DNA profiling, post-mortem reports, and finger prints as first-hand or direct evidence, said Bastakoti. The government should expand forensic laboratories at various places in the country, he added.
In the meantime, Superintendent of Police (SP) Ramesh Thapa of Nepal Police said that medico-legal is a part of investigation. In cases of major fatality, it would be very difficult to identify the dead body. “For example, at the time of Air Bangla crash, we faced a hell lot of difficulties to identity the dead bodies due to the lack of proper equipment at our disposal,” said Thapa.
“We are the working-level partner under the medico-legal and the policy level assistance should be provided by the government,” said SP Thapa. Meanwhile, Dr. Dipendra Raman Singh, Chief of Quality, Standards and Regulation Division at the Ministry of Health and Population (MoHP) said that the Ministry has approved the ‘Medico-legal Operation Guidelines- 2075’ for the hospitals.
The Guidelines is meant for effective management of the critical tasks performed by the hospitals including dead body identification, examination of various types of injuries and blood alcohol level, among other medico-legal services.
“Since the medico-legal sector service involves three different entities i.e. medical, legal and crimes to be handled by police, we are identifying and implementing comprehensive services in this sector,” said Dr.Singh.  

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